I used to be afraid to admit that I was disabled, but now I accept who I am

I used to be afraid to admit that I was disabled, but now I accept who I am

February 22, 2020 Off By telemarkx-c

My name is Anna, I am 45 years old, and have had disabling health conditions for about a quarter of my life. It has taken me the best part of a decade to call myself what I am: a disabled person.

Until about three years ago, I didn’t call myself disabled. I talked about my health being in decline, about feeling unwell, exhausted, being a bit pained or limpy, but I refused to use the D word.

All the signs were right there in my body – but I didn’t claim it. Why was that?

Mainly because those around me refused to allow me the space to be disabled. I don’t look disabled. The physical signifiers of one of my disabilities are not widely recognised outside of those who suffer from the condition, and the others are hidden disabilities.

One boss used to insist I walk across rural fields to work – alone – despite the obvious painful physical difficulties and dangers of a fall, and the possibility of using the Government’s Access To Work scheme, which can help with transport (something all HR departments should know and talk about).

Another asked what adaptations I would need, and when I told her, looked lost, and changed the subject (even though she herself had worked in the disability sector for many years).

It was made clear to me that another colleague had a ‘far worse’ (read ‘more visible’) disability – this felt like it was issued as a warning to me to put up and shut up.

Society made it clear that BC – before chronic illness – I would have more opportunities than AD – after disablement.

So I stayed, on paper, non-disabled, despite my body screaming evidence to the contrary, struggling to make myself fit the demands of the non-disabled world, refusing to admit that I was disabled.

I was too scared to admit what was staring me in the face. It felt as though society was too prejudiced against disabled people for me to own the D word – because it is prejudiced.

There are around 14million disabled people in the UK. One fifth of us are of working age. A third of people think disabled people are less productive than non-disabled people.

We’re more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. We are half as likely again as non-disabled people to be living in poverty.

Hate crime against us rose by 12 per cent last year – and that’s just the reported cases.

As I have owned it, I have found my tribe – I have met hundreds of disabled people who have welcomed me with open arms, and they are as strong, wise, capable and kick-ass as anyone I know

But we have something powerful on our side – something called The Social Model of Disability.

This essentially says: it’s not the disabled person that needs to try to hide, lie or change to fit into society, it’s society that needs to amend its fabric to fit everyone. The obvious and amazing aspect of that is this: if we think about how to change things to fit disabled people, they then fit all people.

A prime example is a ramp – everyone can use a ramp but not everyone can use stairs. If people live to be a ripe old age, disability is inevitable.

Implementing The Social Model helps all of us.

Thinking about it now, rather than later, brings about positive changes – for all of us.

The Social Model is backed up by the law. People cannot legally discriminate against me because of my disabilities, either in terms of the services I use when out and about, or at places of work.

The Equality Act is on my side, and says that businesses must make ‘reasonable adjustment’ – in essence, they have to enact The Social Model – to ensure I can do what I need to do.

The Social Model can also apply to attitudes.

Does a business need to fear the cost of adaptations it needs to make (many of which are government funded through the Access to Work scheme) or does it need to embrace a diverse workforce that includes disabled people who will give it a unique position in its field, with disabled people’s expertise and insight into a 14million person-strong untapped market?

Once we understand The Social Model, we realise that claiming the disability label has power.

We are protected. And we have the right to ask for changes to help us have the same access and rights as non-disabled people.

I now have no qualms about calling myself disabled.

As I have owned it, I have found my tribe – I have met hundreds of disabled people who have welcomed me with open arms, and they are as strong, wise, capable and kick-ass as anyone I know.

We have to be, because we have to kick down the barriers that stop The Social Model from being implemented across society.

And when I say ‘kick’, I’ll be asking, with confidence, for the adaptations I need to allow me to do just that.